Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill admitted yesterday that the chance of his side claiming the fourth Champions League spot and playing in Europe’s premier competition is now slipping.
Commenting after Villa’s drew 3-3 draw with Everton he said: ‘It is going to be very difficult now with Arsenal having won.’ Whereas many sides seem to hit a rich vain of form coming up to the end of the season, Villa have been somewhat the reverse.
They started the season in stunning form and looked to be breaking the ‘Big Four’ strangle hold on English football however in recent weeks this has slipped. O’Neill has won the Manager of the Month award more times than anyone else with the exception of Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson and has built a team with a thoroughly English spine, something that his rivals can only dream of and hopes had been high after an emphatic start to the season.
The biggest mistake that he has made this year was probably the decision to focus on pursuing the Champions League spot, which cost Villa their place in this season’s UEFA Cup. After fielding what was almost a reserve side to play CSKA Moscow the Midlands club lost 2-nil and O’Neill had to put his hand in his pocket and fork out for a meal for all those fans that had bought tickets to watch what they thought, would be a strong Villa team.
At the time the Northern Irishman blamed the small size of his squad for the poor team however it was clear to see that the fourth spot was his aim.
Aston Villa have done well this season but after being destroyed by an impressive Liverpool who smashed five past them a couple of weeks ago many would have expected them to crumble when Everton went 3 -1 up yesterday. However they fought back and salvaged a point from the game.
This resurgent mind set and attitude is often attributed only to the top few teams, the infamous champions trademark that we have so often seen Man Utd deliver, so perhaps this is the greatest achievement for Aston Villa and Martin O’Neill this season – not that they will finish in the top six but that he has built a team that can look confidently to more success in the future.